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Impulse Shopping

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman 

We get lots of shopping tips from avid oily rag readers, who espouse the virtue of having a shopping list as a way to avoid the many temptations that retailers cunningly put before their customers. While there is no doubt that shopping lists are crucial for oily rag shoppers, it is also helpful to understand the research associated with impulse buying. Most of this research has been carried out by retailers wanting to increase sales by better understanding the impulsive instincts of shoppers. We think that by being aware of the tricks of the trade, oily rag shoppers will be better prepared to avoid them!

About half (in fact research varies from anywhere between 40% and 70%) of all grocery purchases are spontaneous or unplanned! That is, the shopper did not go into the store intending to buy the item at all, or did not intend buying that brand of item.

Consumers were more likely to make an impulse buy when the product is displayed at the end of the aisle or at the checkout register than if it was displayed in-aisle. This explains why we are confronted by mouth watering chocolate bars and eye-catching magazines at the checkouts!
Those who like a deal (and that’s most is us!) are more likely to be tempted by in-store specials.
Those with a well prepared and planned shopping list are less likely to buy on impulse, and they tend to plan their purchases down to the brand level. In other words, they know exactly what they want to buy, like Champion standard flour. Those without a list may still buy flour, but they may buy what ever looks appealing at the time and may end up paying more. This shows that list shoppers have done their homework before entering the turnstiles and know which products are the best buys.  
Those who go into a store to buy only a few things were also less likely to buy on impulse. It was found that the more shoppers needed to buy (larger households for example) the greater the proportion of impulse buys in their shopping basket.  This is probably because the biggest single factor leading to impulse buys was the number of isles shopped. This explains why retailers are more likely to have must-have items like milk located at the very back of the store – past as many other categories as possible – or displayed next to less frequently purchased products.
Those more inclined towards impulse buying are:

  • Women (we guess because most men don’t like shopping, unless it’s for things like cars, fishing tackle, or the latest electronic gadgets!)
  • Larger shopping parties, especially those with an army of children saying, “can I have …..” and those sneaking stuff into the shopping trolley.
  • Those on higher incomes and more discretionary spending.
  • Those with a sweet tooth!

Let’s not forget that behind the very innocent and very appealing in-store displays is a retailer who wants you to spend more.  Like politicians plotting and scheming ways to win your vote, retailers spend a good deal of time trying to figure out how to ensure you leave the store with more of their stuff than you had planned. For those who are interested in finding out more about the research, see the Shopping Tips section of the oily rag website at
One last thing, we are holding a “Win a Free Book” competition on The two minute survey asks you to pick from two covers of a kids book we are about to release. All those taking part will go into the draw to win a free copy of the book.
You can contract Frank and Muriel Newman via the oily rag website ( or by writing to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei. The book, Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag, is available from all good bookstores – and from the website.
* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at